I often hear middle aged and older people complain about today’s youth, particularly inner city youth. One of the things they often say is “When are these young people going to get it?” They are usually referring to the way that young people talk, the way they dress, their lack of manners, or some other aspect of their behavior they consider to be inappropriate or unconventional.
The answer to the question of “Why don’t they get it ?” is quite simple yet very profound, “they’ve never seen it ”. You may have heard the saying, “You can’t be it if you don’t see it”. This sounds simple yet many people don’t realize just how powerful and true this statement really is. Essentially it means that everything we learn has either been taught to us or has been “modeled” for us, meaning we have watched others do it. In most cases our behavior is a result of what parents, grandparents, or other family members or mentors have either taught or shown us through their actions.
For example if I wanted to teach a child to speak Italian there are two ways that I could go about it. I could sit him down and teach him Italian in a formal way, or I could just begin speaking Italian whenever I am in the presence of that child, this is called “modeling” or observational learning. When it comes to things like manners, how we talk, how we dress, and how we treat others “modeling” plays an important role. More than likely you learned your standards of behavior by watching your parents and others.
Modeling is a very powerful mechanism for learning. Remember the saying, “actions speak louder than words.” Well it’s true. If you teach your child about the dangers of smoking cigarettes but you currently have a two pack a day habit, you shouldn’t be surprised if your child decides to take up smoking. If you warn your child that he shouldn’t use bad language but you swear like a truck driver around him don’t be surprised if your child follows your lead.
The simple fact is that today, more so than any other time in our history, there are young people that have never been exposed to good manners, good grammar, or proper etiquette. How then do we expect them to have these things ? Furthermore many young women have no idea what a “good man” is and likewise there are young men who have never seen a “good woman”. Some young people have no concept of a what a healthy romantic relationship even looks like, where a man and women treat each other with dignity and respect.
For those of us who were raised in an environment where we learned proper behavior it was because we had adults who modeled it for us. In the absence of those role models we would never have learned the things we did.
We sometimes like to think that we can take a teenager and somehow just tap him on the head with some kind of magic wand and put him on the right path. But it took years for that teen to learn how to behave that way and he cannot be changed overnight.
So the next time you see young people behaving in a manner that’s “less than appropriate”, remember there’s a good chance they don’t know any other way. Cause as the saying goes, “Ya can’t be it, if you don’t see it !”